I used to be a meticulous goal setter.
A couple of years ago, my goals were to:
- Lose 20 pounds.
- Get the next promotion.
- Complete the 100k bike ride around Martha’s Vineyard.
I almost achieved all these goals. In hindsight, there were many problems with these goals.
I lost the 20 lbs I set out to lose. I meticulously tracked my calories and exercised regularly. Once I hit my goal, I became less committed. I gained back the 20 lbs over the next couple of years.
Why? Because the focus was on the number, not on building sustainable habits. I don’t think that rigorously tracking calories is a good thing for your health.
I got the next promotion. Too bad I was completely miserable during the process and after I got the promotion. To get the promotion, I put my head down, worked 45-50 hour weeks, and didn’t push back or make any waves. Two weeks after the promotion, I began to have burnout-induced panic attacks. My anxiety was so acute that I ended up taking about 6 months off from work.
We’ve all heard the adage, “What gets measured, gets managed.” This is great when you have the right goals. Unfortunately, some of our goals are wrong. When we work toward the wrong goal, we overlook other important things. This can cause negative ramifications in our lives.
I did train to complete the 100K bike ride around Martha’s Vineyard. I was ready for it. Too bad there was a hurricane that came through the day before the race. Ferry service to the island was suspended (of course it was!) and we were unable to do the ride.
We were extremely disappointed. Since that day, I haven’t done any rides longer than 15 miles. It’s not because I don’t enjoy it. I was so focused on the outcome (which didn’t come to fruition) rather than focusing on building my love for cycling. I wasn’t cycling for its own sake.
This is why I hate goals.
- We set the wrong goals and work toward them to our detriment.
- We focus so specifically on a number that we forget to focus on building sustainable habits.
- We become so outcomes-focused that we completely give up if we don’t achieve it.
Goal setting has caused me a lot of pain, disappointment, and mental health issues over the years.
Last year, I was recovering from burnout. I didn’t set any big goals for myself. I focused on inputs – what I was going to do – such as being kind to myself and writing weekly. I didn’t focus on the outcome.
Without goals, I accomplished more and grew in ways I would have never thought possible.
When we focus too much on outcomes, we could be:
- Working toward the wrong goals.
- Missing out on building important habits for their own sake.
- Creating unnecessary anxiety for ourselves.
This is why I’m not setting any goals in 2020. I’m focusing on inputs. Focusing on inputs will help us to:
- Trust that the outcomes we want are inevitable if we put in the work.
- Cultivate an enjoyment of the process for its own sake.
- Focus on things that are (more) within our control – our actions.
Without further ado, let’s get into our 2020 action plan (NOT goals).
Financial Action Plan
In 2019, we achieved a savings rate of about 56-58%. My decision to work part-time reduced our income last year, but we also reduced our expenses as well. This allowed us to keep our savings rate high.
For 2020, we would like to keep our savings rate consistent, if not increase it. To do that, we will focus on the two inputs: income and expenses.
We expect our income to increase slightly this year.
I received a cost of living adjustment to my salary in the fall. I would expect to see something similar in 2020 as well. We also expect that Corey will receive a modest salary increase this year as well.
We’d also like to start generating side income this year as well. This would help us to increase our income now. Hopefully, it will also pave the way for me to become an entrepreneur in the next few years.
We felt pretty good about our 2019 spending. We cut our costs by 16% from 2018 just by being mindful of our spending.
In 2020, we want to see if we can reduce our spending by another 5% through continued mindful spending. We will continue focusing on our food spending (i.e. meal planning, buying in bulk, utilizing ugly produce, and eating out infrequently). We also plan to continue utilizing travel rewards and living a more minimalist lifestyle.
On the flip side, there are a few areas that we expect our spending to increase for 2020.
We will be part of a destination wedding for close friends. Given that we are part of the wedding party and it’s a destination wedding, we are expecting extra travel costs. We are incredibly excited to be part of this celebration, so these costs are well worth it!
Another area of focus will be on personal development. Corey and I would both like to invest more in our personal development this year. I will write more about this below.
Finally, we would also like to increase our charitable giving. In 2019, we spent about $2,000 less on charitable giving than in 2018. This year, I stepped down from a nonprofit board and didn’t allocate the charitable giving elsewhere. This year we want to determine where we want to focus our giving or explore opening a donor-advised fund.
Given that we plan to increase costs in these three categories, we will see if we can still reduce costs. If we find that not to be the case, we will readjust our plan.
Blog and Business Action Plan
We were excited to see the growth of the blog in 2019, which culminated in us winning an award for being this year’s “Best New Personal Finance Blog!” To build on this momentum, there are many things we plan to continue and other things we want to start.
Actions to Continue
We plan to continue writing weekly on The Fioneers. Since I have more time to dedicate myself to writing, I will continue to write the majority of our content. Corey will still write a post every 4-6 weeks and continue to serve as the editor in chief of the blog.
We have built a strong partnership that works for us. I get to focus on what I most enjoy – the creative aspects of the blog and engaging with the community. Corey gets to focus on what he enjoys most – strategy and website optimization.
Slow FI will continue to be the backbone of our message. Building financial freedom can help people to design their lives along the way to financial independence.
We will continue to shout this message from the rooftops in our Slow FI interview series. We continue to have significant interest and have at least 5 posts in the queue at any given time!
Our first monthly “Best of Slow FI” newsletter was published in December. We plan to continue curating the best Slow FI content for you each month and sending it straight to your inbox. If you are interested in receiving this newsletter, you can sign-up for our mailing list at the bottom of the post.
We plan to continue building up engagement in our Slow FI Enthusiasts Facebook Group. I sincerely believe that people get a lot more value from engaging in 2-way dialogue rather than 1-way information. The ultimate goal of the group is to foster 2-way dialogue about achieving Slow FI and living our best lives.
Actions to Start
Over the last several months, I’ve explored some business ideas. I’ve considered coaching or creating courses related to salary negotiation, career exploration, and lifestyle design. I’ve decided this is something that I want to pursue. While I’m not yet sure exactly what steps I will take first, stay tuned. I hope to have my first big project ready by the summer.
In 2020, I also plan to get more involved in meet-ups with my local Choose FI and Women’s Personal Finance Groups. I will be hosting the first Women’s Personal Finance Boston Meetup later this week. In a few weeks, I will be giving a presentation at the Choose FI Boston meetup about the stages of financial freedom.
I’d also like to do more speaking whether that be on podcasts or at retreats or conferences. I plan to spread the word to people who run podcasts and events that I’d be willing to speak. I will also apply to run a session at FinCon 2020, an annual financial media conference.
We also plan to get (slightly more) serious about making money from our blog. At this point, we generate minimal income. Over the next year, we want to determine ways to monetize that still allow us to provide the most value as possible to you, our readers. Value is something we are not willing to sacrifice.
Personal Growth Action Plan
This year Corey and I both want to invest even more in our personal growth.
Corey enjoys his work and wants to invest his energy there. He plans to attend an off-site leadership conference later this year. While these costs won’t come directly out of pocket, it will mean that he won’t be able to use his professional development funds for FinCon this year.
This year, I want to continue building my content knowledge related to lifestyle design, coaching, and adult learning. I can do this in low-cost ways, such as reading books and talking to others who are doing similar work.
Since I envision myself doing coaching and courses, I would like to invest in some of these activities this year. I have a few ideas in mind, but I’m not yet sure which ones will be happening this year.
We also plan to continue our minimalist journey. In December, we did the 31-day minimalism challenge. Over the course of the month, we donated or got rid of over 500 things. We will continue decluttering more slowly. We might even do another minimalist challenge in the spring.
Health Action Plan
We will focus on our physical and mental wellness this year but don’t have any specific outcome goals in mind. It’s hard to focus on health inputs when so much of the focus is on outcomes.
This year, I will eat more vegetables, get plenty of sleep (7+ hours of sleep/night), and build strength through weight training and bodyweight exercises. I will also continue to avoid caffeine which helps reduce my anxiety.
I plan to take care of my mental health by meditating at least 3 times/week, continuing with weekly therapy, and taking time to relax and unplug each week.
Fun Action Plan
Fun is too often overlooked when creating goals and plans. It’s as important to be proactive about the fun things that we want to do this year! In this category, we include travel, leisure activities, and building friendships.
We have a lot of travel planned for the year:
- We will be going to Jamaica in March (and covering 90% of the trip with travel rewards)!
- In June, we are going to California for a destination wedding.
- After the wedding, we’ll visit Corey’s family on the west coast for a few days.
- In September, we will be back on the west coast (southern California) for Fincon2020.
- We have a few other plans that are not firm yet. Those include camping on Cape Cod, a long weekend with my parents, a trip to Vermont with friends, and any FI-type events we decide to attend.
Now that my foot injury has improved, we also hope to spend more time doing things we enjoy outdoors when the weather is nice. We want to hike and cycle more. Corey wants to make sure he gets out to play golf and disc golf.
We also want to continue cultivating our current friendships. We’ve decided to tell our closest friends about the blog, so this is an exciting new development for us. We’re excited to be open about this part of our life.
We also want to focus some energy on building new friendships (link to making friends as an adult) with people in our local FI community!
Here’s to 2020!
Whether you are setting goals, intentions, or action steps, I wish you all the best for 2020. I hope you have a year of learning, growth, joy, and discovery.
What are your plans for 2020?
What an eye-opening post, Jessica. As someone who’s constantly striving for goals, you’ve given me a lot of food for thought.
I’ll have to reexamine my goals process to see if there’s a link to times when I feel defeated or pressured by my goals… or when I feel encouraged and uplifted.
Yet another excellent post! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for reading! I definitely think that different types of goals work for different people. I think the most important thing is that it’s realistic and feels like it’s under our control. For me, that means process goals for the short term, while having a long-term vision for the future.
Thanks for the comment!
Slow FI is the way for us as well! We are definitely focused on living an intentional and fulfilling life now, although it will mean a slower path to retirement. Better than being miserable and slogging it out through hated careers, even for just a few years!
I like your approach to the new year of making action plans versus goal setting. Whatever method works for you, go for it!
Thanks for the comment. I think there’s definitely a balance between living a great life now and saving for retirement.
I wish you the best for 2020 also!
I think you need to take a look at what’s important to you, what your priorities are, what are your values. How is your life in relation to those things. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to losing 20 pounds if you look at if from the right perspective. What do I need to do to reach that goal, how do I make it sustainable? When you have the right mind-frame at the beginning you tend to be on the right track. I wanted to pay off my debt and start saving towards retirement because I knew it would bring me peace of mind. We have paid off most of our debt, mortgage only thing outstanding. Do I have a specific number in mind for retirement? Nope, but I am saving something and educating myself to better prepared. I’ve learned that balance and flexibility are key to finding satisfaction and contentment in my life.
Thanks for the comment. I certainly don’t think all outcome-oriented goals are bad. I think they can certainly help – the important thing is to make sustainable changes and cultivate an enjoyment of the process. For me, process-oriented goals do that.
It does sound like your paying off debt and saving for retirement is actually a great process goal for you.